Shiny Bullets in the Wild West – Extended Epilogue

Ryan “Stretch” Edwards shook hands with a few of the grateful audience members after the night’s performance of the Ambers Theatrical Troupe’s latest play. It was a forgettable tale of immigrants longing for life in the Old Country, a spoof of the small-minded old ways, and the importance of the new perspectives of the young nation.

War was coming, and Ryan had been keen to keep politics out of their performances. More and more, that was becoming a challenge. It had been five years since the marriage of Miles McCallum and his wife, Audrey Ambers McCallum. She’d been a good friend and a good actress. She’d become a local hero and a good wife and mother, giving up her time on the boards in favor of domestic duties.

Stretch could hardly blame her. The life of an actor could be rewarding, but it could also be demanding and punishing. She’s better off, he told himself that night as he had so many nights before.

Though he could hardly imagine giving up on the life himself. If any woman would have me, he had to think, also not nearly for the first time. But his little, stubby legs and twisted physique made just walking a difficulty at times. To woo a woman, and then impress her with the conjugal enterprise, seemed forever beyond his grasp. In truth, man that he was born to be, Stretch was lucky to be alive and he knew it.

But there was still food and drink and other pleasures, all of them more passing in nature than what the McCallums shared. They had a legendary love affair and a fine family, and Stretch couldn’t help but be glad for them.

They’d certainly earned it.

Stretch walked away from the theater, the theater manager locking up behind him and the other actors. He enjoyed the acceptance he found among his fans, a way to capture their respect in the only way he could, the only way he knew. He’d never be a tall, handsome, capable man like Miles McCallum, Stretch had long since accepted that.

And while he had no loving wife, no adoring children, he also had no responsibilities of that sort. There was no reason he couldn’t spend time in the saloon, where women were willing to smile when they looked at him, to pretend he was charming and funny. They were lying, but he didn’t mind.

We’re all just actors, he told himself, one way or the other, all of us performing, everyone watching the others.

He waddled down the thoroughfare to the Belle View Saloon, where the rollicking sounds of laughter and pianos were already loud and only getting more so as Stretch approached. The theater closed at ten, just when the saloon’s business was picking up.

Stretch pushed his way through the crowd and into the saloon, the air thick with cigar and cigarette smoke and the smells of stale liquor and bad breath. The laughter and conversations percolated around him, frothing with the kind of human interaction he was so expert at replicating on the stage.

In life, it was a different matter.

Stretch climbed up onto a bar stool, other men and women all around him. The bartender, One-Eyed Johnny, knew what Stretch drank. He poured a cold beer and a shot glass full of whiskey and set them in front of the little actor.

“Look at this,” somebody said, “must be St. Paddy’s Day… it’s a genuine Leprechaun!” The man laughed, too loud and too long, and several others around him joined in. “Unless it’s Christmas! That it, li’l feller, you here with Santy Claus?”

More laughter rose up from the grubby men next to him at the bar.

Stretch said, “What’s your name, friend?”

“Buddy. But I ain’t your friend, short-pants.”

“Okay, Buddy,” Stretch said. “You’re a pretty smart guy, eh, Buddy?” Stretch sipped his drinks as he waited for the answer. He already knew what it would be.

“Much as any natural man,” Buddy said, his friends laughing.

“You’re pretty smart,” Stretch said. “And I’m pretty short.”

“Pretty short?” Buddy looked Stretch over. “Well, yer short, anyway.”

His friends laughed again.

“I am,” Stretch said. “But… is that it? I mean, from a man smart as you?” Buddy just looked at him with the tilted head of a confused dog. “Well, I mean, a man of your intelligence, not to mention your height, should be able to do better than that! Granted, I’m an actor, so I know a bit about these things. Whereas you… I don’t know what your line of work is, but—”

“I shoot mouthy little men,” Buddy said.

“Well, that won’t pay you much here tonight,” Stretch said, the others chuckling and looking on from under their dirty hats and from behind their grimy faces. “But I’ll make you a little wager, if you like, that’ll put a few bucks in your pocket. And of course, you’ll be able to… to make small of me.”

The others laughed, and Buddy ground his jaw as if skeptically chewing on the offer. “What’s yer wager, little man?”

Buddy said, “You called me short, and you’re right. But… can’t you do better?”

“Pipsqueak,” Buddy said, “half-pint, circus… guy.”

The men around Buddy shook their heads, unimpressed.

“Here’s the wager then,” Stretch said, handing the money to One-Eyed Johnny. “That’s a hundred dollars right there. If you can be the last man to deliver an acceptable insult, you get the money. If not, well, you let me buy you a drink and we consider each other friends. Fair?”

Buddy looked at the bartender, at his friends, then back at Stretch. “I don’t get it.”

“I’ll start,” Stretch said. “Ready?”

Buddy looked around. Everybody’s attention was fixed on his contest with Stretch.

“Well, Buddy, you’re not… afraid, are you?”

“Afraid? I ain’t afraid of no man!”

“All right then. Follow my lead.”

“Where we goin’?”

Stretch forced a smile. “Different ways to call a man short,” he said, by way of announcing the strange duel he’d instigated. “An inventive approach! Why look, a stepstool, without even having to fetch it from the closet!”

The crowd laughed, but the laughter subsided and all eyes fell on Buddy. “All right, well, insulting! Yer so small, you could look up the belly of snake!” The crowd groaned, clearly unimpressed. Buddy’s friends shook their heads, and he added, “’Fore you call her ‘mama’!”

The crowd threw up an impressed hush before more laughter broke out.

Stretch said, “Here’s a spiritual approach. If he weren’t so ugly, I’d almost take him for the baby Jesus!”

The crowd laughed, people nodding. Stretch knew the looks from the men and women in his audience. They were entertained, they were amused, and that had kept him alive for almost fifty years.

Buddy clearly knew it was his turn again. His bloodshot eyes shifted around the room, and Stretch knew the man was searching for inspiration. And it was literally everywhere, but still out of his reach.

“Drunken,” Buddy said, “or… yeah, like a drunk. He might say, um, ‘That’s some big bottle, but… how do I open it? It don’t twist nowhere.’” A few chuckles rose up from the crowd.

Stretch nodded, taking a sip of beer. “What about a military approach? Watch out, a spy… or is it some kind of strange boobytrap disguised as a human?”

The others laughed, but Buddy said nothing. Stretch waited and so did the rest of the room, everybody looking on in pitched anticipation.

Stretch went on, “Or, in the manner of a poet? Tiny he of waddling stride, where did he go? Did he hide?” The audience threw up a cluster of screams and howls of laughter. Stretch waited and Buddy stammered.

“I… ‘cause yer short,” Buddy said, rotten teeth grinding, “I can’t hardly even see ‘ya!”

No laughter rose up, and the awkward silence said more than Stretch could and more than he needed to. Buddy said, “You… you should just be a… with yer little legs and the way you move around. Yer like a little broke-down rat can even run along the ground, you… you little rat!”

More silence was his only response, other than the throats clearing and the muttered expressions of disappointment.

“I got more to say,” Buddy said. “If… I was way up high in a tree, and I… I looked down like I’m doin’ right now, that’s what he’d look like, like I was…” The crowd started booing and hissing, shaking their heads. “’Cause… look at him, he ain’t hardly even a whole man!”

“But he won.” One-Eyed Johnny asked the room, “Folks?”

They all threw up a mighty cheer. Once it had passed, only their cold glares remained. Buddy looked around, taking them on, slowly nodding.

“You said you’d buy me a drink,” he said.

“I’ll buy you two,” Stretch said, glancing at One-Eyed Johnny and pointing at his own beer and whiskey. “For my friend here. I’ll take another round, too.”

One-Eyed Johnny gave Stretch a little wink. “Yer a heck of a peacemaker, Stretch.”

“Everything okay here?”

Stretch and the others turned at a familiar voice, known to almost everybody in Bellevue, Nebraska. Sheriff Miles McCallum strode into the saloon, the whole place going silent. Miles entered with his usual confidence, a swagger that told everybody who saw him that they’d best step out of the way.

One-Eyed Johnny said, “All’s well, Sheriff. How’s everything on your side of the street?”

Miles just nodded. He looked down at Stretch and gave him a tip of the hat. “Mister Ryan Edwards.” Stretch returned the nod with one of his own. He turned to survey the crowd. “This man is a friend of mine,” he said loud enough for everybody to hear him. “Anybody has a problem with him… has a problem with me.”

“You won’t have to worry about that none, Sheriff,” Buddy said. “We’re all thick as thieves ‘round here.” After an awkward pause, he glanced at his friends and quickly corrected himself with, “Well, not thieves, far as that goes, but… we like this little feller here.”

“He’s not some little feller,” Miles said. “This man’s a great artist. He’s a person with dignity. He’s a hard worker, honest, good to his friends. He faces drunks and criminals same as you, only a lot more and every single night. This man is a pillar of the community, worthy of anybody’s and everybody’s respect. And he’s going to have it. Because like I said… he’s a friend of mine.”

The room just looked at the sheriff, nobody able or willing to challenge him. Miles tipped his hat to One-Eyed Jack, to Buddy, and to Stretch. “You have a good night now. And the kids are expecting a visit from their Uncle Ryan.”

“Sunday after services?”

Miles shook Stretch’s hand and said, “See you then, sir.” With a final glare at the others, Miles turned and stepped out of the saloon. The piano started playing again, people went on conversing and laughing and belching and drinking and flirting.

Stretch looked at Buddy and Buddy back at him, the others all looking at them with a tense anxiety. Buddy said, “Well, you may not be tall, but yer big in the brain. An’… an’ that’s all right. Yessir, that’s just fine.”

Stretch raised his beer and the two men clinked their glasses. Stretch said, “Come to the theater tomorrow, all you fellas, as my guests. It’s a rollicking little show, something for everybody.”

Buddy and his friends shared a glance and then a nod, and Buddy said, “That’s right nice of yer… friend.”

Stretch took a sip of his beer. “The theater needs all the friends it can get!”

Buddy asked, “Who don’t?”

They all broke out in a shared chuckle, raising their glasses and tipping them back. The piano played, the women laughed, and Stretch enjoyed another fine evening. He didn’t have a family, but he had friends, he had community. He had life.

He had hope, like the nation itself, looking into the future with the brightest expectations and the resolve to bring them to life.

In the corner of the room, Stretch noticed a very comely young woman, not one of the saloon’s girls, looking at him. She gave Stretch a little smile, a little wink. He raised his glass and returned her wink with one of his own, feeling like the tallest person in the room, in Nebraska, in all of the United States of America.

THE END


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7 thoughts on “Shiny Bullets in the Wild West – Extended Epilogue”

    1. I tried again and got the extended.
      Thanks. I’ll be looking for the review.
      I thought the character development was good. After all, the hero could have thrown up his hands and shot the white hat. That was a great name you gave him.

  1. This is quite an interesting adventure to be sure! Very entertaining and thrilling journey full of twists and turns throughout the story. Lots of mystery and very entertaining characters. Heart-stopping and romantic, with an unexpected ,but beautiful happy ending ending. I really enjoyed the extended epilogue in which Stretch is given his due respect. Loved the action and adventure; definitely highly recommend this amazing book! Great story and excellent writing skills!

  2. An awesome story by Derek with a lot of suspense to the very end. Miles had a rough time before he learned the bad guy was a good man and his boss was the bad guy. Keep up the great stories and will be looking for the next book.

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